A farmer speaks. And then another.

The first day of the Governing Body meeting of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture yesterday was enlivened by two speeches from farmers. Sunda Ram Verma is from Sikar in Rajasthan, while Guy Kastler is French. Neither, of course, is a typical farmer. Typical farmers don’t come to Rome to address the Governing Body of the ITPGRFA. But each had interesting things to day.

Sunda Ram Verma has devised new techniques for saving water and was recognized for his work with cumin, guar bean and pearl millet diversity. According to the quasi-official meeting report, “Verma described his lifetime of developing and sharing improved crop varieties, said farmers would benefit from access to resources for screening new varieties, and noted that he has received no benefits from commercialization of his own improved varieties.” One might wonder why not. Because India does not permit such a thing? Or because he never sought cash benefits? I think we should be told. And in passing, one might further wonder why an NGO blog didn’t even record Sunda Ram Verma’s name. Too much respect?

Guy Kastler is no stranger to international agro-politics, having tussled to keep GMOs out of Europe and more generally for some relaxation of Europe’s draconian seed laws. Again, the quasi-official report says that Kastler “distinguished between small- and large-scale plant breeders, and called for a dynamic Treaty that supports farmers’ rights, such as the right to sell their seeds, an inventory system to support their breeding approaches and plant descriptions, and a fund to support farmers’ consultations worldwide. He said the ITPGR subjects farmers to national laws, some of which undermine their rights.” His speech, however, is available at the Via Campesina web site, so you can see for yourself whether that’s a fair summary.

I wasn’t there, but I’m told that there was some light head nodding among the delegates; I wasn’t told whether this represented gentle agreement or incipient sleep. Reading Kastler’s words, I somehow wonder whether the nodding was affirmative. He’s drawing attention to the fact that farmers (and gardeners) in Europe are the least free in the world, and that the Treaty, while guaranteeing them certain rights, does absolutely nothing to deliver those rights. Nor does it apparently admonish the governments — parties to the Treaty — who deny farmers the rights they signed up to in the Treaty. Could it be that those governments aren’t actually serious about farmers’ rights?

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